If You Keep Your Mouth Shut the Flies Won’t Get In

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by Heather Murphy

I am a child with no boundaries. It’s best to start that way; with the complete truth just out there, in your face, right off, bang. Because that is the crux of it. It is the result of something it would take hundreds of pages to elaborate upon—and maybe I will do so one day—it certainly does bear examination, but I can only bite off little pieces at a time.

Speaking of biting off pieces, this is about that remarkable muscle which hides in the mouth. The tongue. Sometimes mine seems to operate independently without my true consent, and like a dog unwittingly leading a bear back into camp, incite a ruckus.

Let me tell you how my complete lack of boundaries with people is getting me into trouble in the here and now. But let me also make a disclaimer about how I will be doing so using metaphor, possibly impersonal, universal examples, hypothetical situational psychology, (I just made that up, doesn’t it sound good?) and other totally anonymous tools to get my point across. I have to show some restraint to reach the grace I am ultimately seeking or my words will brew me more trouble, after I’ve already had my fill.

Words have such magic, such power. They can do whatever they want with you, really. They can change your mood and your feelings—just like that. Once they are on the page or out of your mouth, they go out into the world and have their own life. Regardless of your intentions. You totally get that part, right? Regardless of your intentions? It’s like the Venus/Mars thing, where that author talks about how you say one thing but it passes through a filter like thingy in the brain and comes out as something else for the person, something you may not have intended, unfortunately.

But back to the point of no boundaries. I let people in too far, because I’m hopeful, and I don’t set proper boundaries for either of us. It’s sad for me, because it’s already in there, in me, and I don’t know how to un-do parts of me now that I don’t like, I’m already in my forties, though a lot of work in alanon has helped. I realize that what I have to do is just make the adjustments based on what I know about the other person who is disappointing me or pissing me off once I have gotten sort of close to them. I have to realize that it is something in them, and about them that I have reached as an obstacle because this is just how they operate, and it’s for a complex variety of reasons. Not because of some special grotesque and unacceptable fault of my own, but because this is how they roll, baby. Then, I don’t have to take it so fucking personally, I can cultivate some kind of logical neutrality that will ultimately defuse the situation.

So, hang on, are you into this astrology crap? Because sometimes, I swear, there are just certain people—regardless of how beautiful and amazing they might be, who rub you the wrong ass way. Do you have that? Why is that? All the components can be there, everything you need for some juicy material, something you could sink your teeth into…a friendship, a lover, a project, an idea, fantasies, but then…there is just this bad chemistry. Emotions run like roller coaster cars in opposite directions, wool grabs on sandpaper, oil floats atop water, blue and red don’t go…and some people just don’t mix.

Even when I want them to.

I could go off on a tangent about the strange and wondrous dynamic of meeting people and feeling the opposite—feeling instant camaraderie and familiarity, the fun idea you knew them in a prior life, all that good stuff. But this is not about that. This is the dark stuff, the people who are opaque to you, who are like a furnished room with no lights on. The people who tilt their heads to the side quizzically when the others are nodding. Because they don’t get you. And I told you, it’s nothing personal. Even when you like them and they can’t like you back.

But how are you going to handle them? If you’re like me–stupid, you’ll get miffed and run your mouth. The boundaries you’ve set for yourself—out the window. See where that gets you. There’s a big laugh out loud. Because no one of value wants to hear you running your mouth, or making drama, or any of that Jerry Springer shit. If they do, run and hide—find new friends, quickly.

Everywhere you go, you will run into these people. These people you might rub the wrong way. You say potato, and they will say you said, tomato. You will see the glass half full and they will see smudges on the glass. You will read something to them that you have written and they will look at you with pity or anxiety, with puzzlement, perhaps, or even outrage. Since you have no boundaries, you will take this badly and ruminate over it, like a squirrel with a nut, until you have decided you are unfit for human consumption and should live under ground with moles, or in another country where you don’t speak the language.

But wait. You don’t have to. Just because some people don’t get you at all and even think you’re an asshole doesn’t mean you don’t have amazing insights and talents. It just means your signal isn’t getting through to them because of wiring issues. No biggie. Let it be impersonal, please. It’s just like those chemistry experiments in high school. When you mix certain things together, nothing happens. You just sit there, staring, with your protective eye-wear, next to the beaker, but nothing happens. Or, there is this huge explosion. And it leaves a big mess.

I warned you it would be all hypothetical and anonymous and universal, didn’t I? This blathering around the bush. But, I’ve been miffed and pissed and misunderstood and misinterpreted and looked at funny. But because I am a former card-carrying Buddhist who’s been around the block a few times and just wants some freakin’ peace, I am taking the high road. I am thinking of my difficult situation as being an opportunity for growth. I am remembering that certain people will just not get me, and that’s okay, and I don’t have to take it personally or badly when things go awry, and unleash the tongue monster, I just have to find some grace in myself to get through it without looking like an asshole. And I don’t have to name names or point out times he has disappointed me, or she has misinterpreted me, or he has failed to respond to my sound logic, I just have to remind myself to get through it without blowing it, Jerry Springer style.

Transcriptional Bursting, Minecraft, and Active Listening

–by Heather Murphy

Sometimes, people are talking to me and I’m not really listening, not all the way. It’s not that I’m faking it, I’m not; though my dad says there are a quadrillion synapses in the human nervous system, there are a finite number of them I’m capable of firing in a given day without falling into a short-circuited heap onto an unswept floor. Certain things will be processed with as much critical thinking muscle as it takes to blink, or take in oxygen.

There are keywords that prick up my ears: Mom, hungry, food, chocolate, late, sex, please, and my first name are about the length of it, however.

I am not always in this state of not-really-listening. In fact, much of the time, I can be eagerly attentive, letting my natural curiosity and piqued interest lead me to all sorts of stories and information. But if I am writing, or recalling, or attempting to make four tasty dishes appear simultaneously on the table with steam still emanating from them, I might not hear the details of your new minecraft world. I might miss the fact that the furnace filter needs to be changed. And I might only nod my head and mumble into the oven when my dad comes over for dinner early to inform me that Transcriptional Bursting is messenger RNAs being produced from a DNA template.

Not-really-listening happens when I am pushing the limits of my neurological abilities. If I am working out a problem in my head, I can’t tune in to the voices all around me.

As I typed the last sentence—which sounded like the inner dialog of a schizophrenic, I know–I lied: “Yes,” to a question my husband asked me, and even mustered eye contact and a smile, and I have no idea what subject he was even attempting to discuss with me. His voice was calm and friendly, and currently, he seems happy to keep chattering sweetly as I bang away on the keyboard with the limited amount of time I have to do so before other people’s stomachs drag me unceremoniously away.

Though multitasking has become the modus operandi of our culture, I find it difficult to type an interesting blog, on-the-fly, and listen to people talk about the installation process for a spa filter. At least that’s what I think he was talking about—I didn’t hear any keywords, or sense distress, so I could not tell you with any certainty, but I hear the motor of the thing now, so I’ve taken liberties, extrapolating. The brain is wonderful that way.

But hearing is not listening. Listening requires that you be all-there to hear the words. You cannot do so if you are elsewhere, in your mind, working out your important problems. Listening can be a kind of magic, where you take in information and suffuse it with your own insights, emotional responses, memories, and wisdom, and create the rich dynamic of communication with another person by feeding this back to them. How can you do that and roast brussel sprouts at the same time?

Active listening as a psychology term was coined by Carl Rogers. It involves listening closely and attentively, then paraphrasing, at opportune moments, to let the speaker know you are abreast of the situation. In my family, we set time aside specifically for this, since too much of the time, there are distractions. Keeping open and interested lines of communication with my children is crucial to all of us. When I actively listen, I can pry, interject, question, learn, laugh, and deepen my understanding of the people I care to hear.

Rapidly, we are moving into a time of communication overload, which is really cloaked scarcity. It is a bitter irony that the more online and gadget communicating people are doing now, the less face to face contact they are having with real live people. Active listening will become a lost art, or somehow used as flattery for the exploitation of stupid people with money, and that is a shame. When you listen, you learn.